People Still Believe These Debunked Myths


Marilyn Monroe

We’re endlessly fascinated by celebrities – well, actually, some people are completely obsessed with them. But celebrities themselves are often fairly normal people whose personal lives aren’t all that outlandish. But that’s not going to be enough for the celebrity-obsession crowd. The solution? Just make some stuff up. This is the reason a huge percentage of the amazing celebrity trivia you see online is either pure fiction or at least heavily embellished. For example:

Audiences for early silent films panicked when they mistook them for reality

Mistook Them For Reality

One of the earliest and most prevalent myths about the “magic” of cinema concerns a silent film from 1896, Arrival Of A Train At La Ciotat, which supposedly caused a massive panic in a Paris theater. In the film, a train comes toward the camera, and thus the audience. And those ignorant bumpkins, having never seen a movie (or, apparently, a painting or picture), thought that the train was gonna come through the screen. So maybe it’s less a myth about the power of cinema, and more about believing everyone in the past was a childlike simpleton.

Of course, you don’t have to be a film student to find this claim to be really suspicious. For example, film in 1896 had such low resolution that there was a marked difference between it and terrifyingly hi-def real life. Also, it was in black and white, and real life is in color, even in strange, faraway lands. So to believe a black-and-white train was coming at you would also require an earnest explanation as to how the laws of color and space change when you’re in a theater.

Martin Loiperdinger, a film scholar at the University of Trier in Germany, wrote in Lumiere’s Arrival Of The Train: Cinema’s Founding Myth, “There is no evidence at all about any crowd panic in Paris or elsewhere during screenings … neither police reports nor newspaper reporting … The screen the film was shown on was small (around seven feet wide), and the picture quality was not only lacking color, but it was full of grain. The image flickered noticeably, and of course, there was no sound. In other words, there was no way anyone was confusing the film for reality.”

According to Loiperdinger, there’s no account of how audiences reacted. If we had to guess, they probably thought it was really cool at first, and then after that wore off, somebody thought, “What if the train exploded?”

James Bond actress died after being painted gold

Painted Gold

Whether you know it from it being your Dad’s favorite bedtime story or from the fact that it plays on AMC roughly three dozen times a week, there’s no denying that the 007 film Goldfinger is a classic. It’s got a character named Oddjob, and another named P***y Galore. It’s got a heist at Fort Knox. And it features a woman being painted in gold … to death. To explain that last thing, Bond says, “Covering a person with paint will cause death, because the body ‘breathes’ through the skin.”

If that sounds like bad science to you, you’re right – otherwise you’d be hearing about a lot more accidental body-paint deaths every Halloween. But in 1964, Bond’s ridiculous explanation of death by gold was so convincing that rumors started to circulate that the actual actress in the film died during production due to the same paint-induced asphyxiation as her character. Don’t mind the fact that this would imply that director Guy Hamilton found it suitable to have mega-star Sean Connery linger around A REAL DEAD BODY and then still keep it in an international hit franchise film.

So let’s get this out of the way: It’s true that the skin is covered in many pores, which are openings through which oil and sweat secreted by glands can reach the surface. However, these openings aren’t a pathway for oxygen. If that were true, we could all hold our breath for hours and not have an issue with, you know, dying. But apparently, there was a team of doctors standing by on set to make sure this little asphyxiation theory didn’t prove true. They even left a little patch on her belly unpainted, just in case.

Thankfully, due to the existence of rare organs known as the lungs, actress Shirley Eaton survived her role, and is still alive today at age 82. She’s also been interviewed several times about the movie, and even wrote an autobiography titled Golden Girl, though a much more appropriate name would be I’m Not Dead, You Crazy Idiots.

Mama Cass died choking on a ham sandwich

Ham Sandwich

Singers can have a nasty habit of dying young, mostly due to another nasty habit of doing lots of drugs. One youthful casualty was the Mamas and the Papas singer “Mama” Cass Elliot in 1974. Her death has, bizarrely, been attributed to a variety of causes. Some say it was another tragic overdose. Some say the FBI assassinated her. And one theory even claims she was pregnant with John Lennon’s child. Not sure how that would lead to her death, but it’s certainly out there.

But the most prevalent rumor about her death, and the origin of countless hack stand-up routines is that Cass met her end via sandwich.

The story goes that Elliot was lying down in bed while eating a ham sandwich and subsequently choked. This legend is particularly popular due to the truckload of tragic irony that it implies. Fat people are somehow morally wrong in our society for being fat, so Cass would obviously fall to the sin of gluttony. Even the first physician to examine her after her death didn’t help, telling a newspaper that Elliot “appeared to have been eating a ham sandwich and drinking Coca-Cola while lying down — a very dangerous thing to do. This would be especially dangerous for someone like Cass who was overweight and who might be prone to having a heart attack.”

You know, the way people are constantly dying from eating sandwiches in bed? Anyway, the physician didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Elliot’s sandwich was sitting on the table next to her, untouched, according to the police investigation. What, did it kill her via telepathy?

In reality, the coroner’s report showed that she died of a heart attack due to a “fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity.” So her death ultimately was due to her weight, but somehow the world’s comedians decided there wasn’t quite enough of a fat joke in that.

Marilyn Monroe had an IQ of 168

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe probably ranks right behind Albert Einstein on the list of famous people the internet loves to just make up junk about. Have you seen the memes with the quote “If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best” stamped over Monroe’s face? Yeah, she never said that, or the dozens of other inspirational girl power sayings attributed to her on Pinterest.

Also, despite the popular rumor that turns up on various “secret celebrity geniuses” listicles, there’s no evidence she had an IQ of 168.

This unproven (and strangely specific) claim has been perpetuated by both trustworthy and untrustworthy news sites alike. Or Twitter feeds from your old friends from high school. Whichever. The earliest appearance might be this BuzzFeed list from 2013. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you’re on the “trusted news source” part of BuzzFeed’s site, but in this case, they cited no source for the “fact,” and we’re going to take a wild guess that it was based on somebody else’s list of trivia that also didn’t provide a source. You know, because internet.

Meanwhile, a quick look at the history of the IQ test would show that it was not widely available to Americans until Monroe was in her 20s, and even then, the test was for children. And poor Monroe, doomed to play a “dumb blonde” until her death, was also sensitive about the fact that she didn’t finish high school. Add that to her marriage at 16, and you realize that even if she was a genius, she never really had a chance to prove it in an academic sense. That said, she definitely made some savvy business decisions, even starting her own production company to force studios to give her more creative control.

Scott Fortner, a curator of The Marilyn Monroe Collection, told Snopes that while she was “more into books than shoes” and had an extensive library, “There were no records present of her having been [IQ] tested.” So she was probably smart, but we’ll have to live with the fact that we can’t easily quantify her smarts with a numerical score.

Steven Spielberg got his start by faking being important

Steven Spielberg

For some reason, so many prominent people believe they need a cool origin story, as if they’re damned superheroes. Maybe they just get asked “How did you get your start?” so much that they feel like they need to come up with something?

Take Steven Spielberg, maybe the most successful director of all time. According to him, he got his start in Hollywood via a wacky deception – namely, by strolling past guards onto the Universal Studios lot wearing a black business suit and carrying a briefcase. There he schmoozed with some big Hollywood types and took over an unoccupied office. It’s the kind of plucky, sneak-in-through-the-back-door success story Americans love to hear.

As such, Spielberg has told different, escalating versions of this for years. In a 1969 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Spielberg said that when he was 21, he’d go in every day for three months with a black suit and briefcase and visit sets to observe people working. A few years later, this turned into him sneaking past guards, finding an empty bungalow, setting up shop, and then manipulating the people at the switchboard so that he could take calls. It apparently took two years for Universal to discover his deceit. What a scamp!

In 1985, the story he told Time was so big that it sounds like he was writing a full-blown treatment for a movie about his life. This time, he claimed that when he was 17, he snuck away from a Universal Pictures studio tour and convinced the head of the editorial department to watch his 8mm films. The editorial head obviously loved them, and so he snuck onto the lot every day that summer, hung out with nearly everyone who worked there, and then set up his office, even putting his name in the building directory.

Alright, so what’s the truth? Spielberg did visit the lot when he was around 16, but he got there on tours arranged by his dad, who had a connection at the studio. And he did meet the head of editorial and he did show him some of his work. Then, a year later, Spielberg came back to essentially be an unpaid assistant. He did have to sneak his way onto the lot, but it was mostly to do clerical work. He also had an office, which he shared with a middle-aged woman who worked as a purchasing agent.

And there’s nothing wrong with that story! No wacky scam, just a journey that should sound familiar to millennials everywhere: toiling away at an unpaid internship and making it sound like a bigger deal than it was on your resume.

We’re not sure what keeps these myths alive – is it just the myths being repeated continuously and thus appearing true, or are people so blindly worshipping myths that they refuse to see the evidence debunking them? Whatever it is, some myths just have a ton of staying power, especially where Hollywood and celebrities are concerned. The truth always faces an uphill battle.

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